As a Duke student, I think people usually have some preconception of who I am, and the education I hold. Probably snobby, has money, or will as soon as I graduate, working toward a Ph.D. in some academically dense field that’s largely inaccessible to the public, entitled.
These things aren’t entirely inaccurate for some Duke students. But they don’t fit me at all. I came on a full scholarship, and I will remain in Durham after I graduate this spring, still living paycheck-to-paycheck, hoping for a job and housing I can afford the same way I did as a freshman.
I’ve come to love this city and have actively invested in it, at the expense of networking opportunities that will likely provide my peers both well-paying jobs and affordable rents. I don’t regret that, because I know those who came before me would have wanted me to do what’s right.
At Monday night's Durham City Council meeting, Mark-Anthony Middleton had some really good points “How did we get here?" he asked. "People I’m talking to aren’t worried about [police] exchanges, they’re worried about jobs and houses.”
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The first protest I went to when I got to at Duke, was in response to the non-indictment of the police officer who killed Eric Garner, a man they claimed was selling loose cigarettes. I remember seeing the entire police force — awaiting a community there to mourn — in full riot gear. From there, it escalated, and people I knew were arrested.
From then on, I decided I wanted to help change Durham.
No one should be met with armed police when attempting to mourn the death of someone who died from over-policing. I switched my major to African and African American Studies in my sophomore year, hoping to make sense of institutional racism. And I learned about policy, all the things that nobody had taught me before.
Mayor Schewel said before calling the council to vote that the United States did not cause what’s going on in Palestine. And that’s certainly true, on one level. But this is actually the very reason that the campaign exists, because while tensions have existed long before the United States came to be, the United States has influenced the world simply by coming to be.
I said in my comment that I’m indigenous to this land we now call the United States. Now. Not always. I’ve read through history, talked with elders, and taken in the history of my people, Black and Indigenous, facing atrocities that I don’t know how people even managed to survive through. But they did, and I get to be here now. And I’m still witnessing atrocities. And that has to stop.
Mayor Schewel also said “exaggerations” lead to damaging the relationship between the city and the police. And I think that’s where I have the most tension myself. I believe it’s important for the police to move toward making fewer arrests, but I also must bring forth that Durham is still over-policing black and brown people. While arrests and searches have decreased, black people are still disproportionately being targeted. According to the IndyWeek, “since 2008, the share of drivers searched who were black has hovered between 75 and 85 percent.” Thirty-eight percent of Durham’s population is black.
I want to live in a Durham in which we don’t have funding going toward a policing system that still over-polices black and brown people. I want funding to go for social services, to affordable housing, to jobs. But we can’t do that by funding militarization.
I’m glad that the statement has passed. And I’m going to hope that we can continue to set an example as a city, in a settler-colonialism entrenched country, that believes the exchange of militaristic tactics is not where money should go, and that black and brown people deserve respect and compassion.
Jazmynne Williams is a member of BYP 100 (Black Youth Project 100) Durham.